Film Review: THE STAIRS (Canada 2016) ***1/2

Directed by Hugh Gibson

Review by Gilbert Seah

There are certain stories that need to be told. THE STAIRS is one of them. THE STAIRS refer to the back stairs is of an apartment building where homeless drug users that frequent Regent Park live. One step is the bathroom, another step the kitchen and so on. THE STAIRS is also the place where they congregate for drug usage. But it is a safe haven for these people as they can partake safely here than out in the open. As one user says, “If you buy it and try to it in in the open, it is not going to happen.”

This documentary by Hugh Gibson took five years in the making and tells stories of Toronto’s marginal people – not the ones that live in high-rise condos downtown or in large houses in the Greater Toronto Area but the drug users of Toronto’s Regent Park.

The centre of the film is Regent Park Community Health Centre, whose staff of social workers includes both former and current drug users. These workers understand all too well what their clients are going through.

The film is quietly effective as Gibson narrows his film to concentrate on only three subjects, all three of which are staff embers of the Health Centre. One is the loquacious, seemingly tireless Marty, who was so addicted at one point that, after being shot in a deal that went south, he stopped for a hit before going to the hospital; the second is Roxanne, a former sex worker whose tales of life in the trade are beyond harrowing; and finally Greg, a biracial child of the 1960s consumed with a long-delayed legal case hinging on a police officer’s use of excessive force. Gibson spends equal screen time on each of the three subjects, each just as interesting as the next.

One would think that the stories are morbid and horrifying. True but the subjects are thankful to be living and they share a sense of humour. Marty is extremely funny when he confesses that he has never been called grandpa even by his grandchild. Roxanne has a scary tale of being kidnapped that rival the one in the hit film ROOM. She relates how she escaped, naked and hit by a car before being brought down to the police station, and how she identified the house from memory and got her abductor a long prison sentence. She also talks about the sex trade. These stories are human as they come from real people. It is hard for anyone not to feel sorry for Roxanne and also for Greg who was beaten up by the cops for no reason.

The film also challenges prejudices and preconceived notions. It also underlines how tentative sobriety and stability can be for people who have lived in addiction for years. THE STAIRS has been nominated by the Toronto Film Critics Association (TFCA) for the Best Canadian Feature. It has my vote!




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